Scientists prepare for rare phenomenon during total solar eclipse

This was taken from the Mir space station during a solar eclipse on Aug. 11, 1999. The shadow of the Moon was projected onto Earth. Credit: NASA

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The total solar eclipse is just a few weeks away, and scientists and stargazers alike are preparing for a rare phenomenon.

There’s a possibility a swarm of “shadow snakes” will descend on Middle Tennessee. They’re also known as “shadow bands.”

(Courtesy: NASA)

In the moments just before and after totality, for centuries, total eclipse viewers have reported seeing thin wavy shadowy lines, rapidly moving parallel to each other on “plain-colored surfaces.”

According to experts at NASA, one popular theory is that the bands originate in the atmosphere due to highly unpredictable air cells that help to “focus and de-focus the sharp-edged light from the solar surface.” Read more from NASA.

Shadow bands are elusive and hard to photograph or video. They also are not visible during every total eclipse.

A man named Michael Zeiler captured them on video during the total solar eclipse on November 14, 2012 in Australia. Click here to watch his video.

For those interested in attempting to catch these “snakes,” NASA has a few tips:

  • A large one-meter square piece of white paper or poster board is essential. Use this as the screen and set up your camera to photograph or record continuous video of this screen as the crescent of the solar surface disappears at the start of the eclipse and re-appears at the end of the eclipse.
  • Place your digital camera in “sports photography” movie mode so that when you depress the button your camera will take a continuous stream of still images.
  • Make sure a meter stick is placed on the poster so that you can establish size.
  • Also make sure that your pictures or video are time stamped so you can determine their speed and changes in intensity and direction.
  • Draw a line pointed in the direction of the eclipsing sun during totality and a line directed North-South and East-West.

The eclipse will happen Monday, Aug. 21.